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There are great benefits to connectedness, but we haven't wrapped our minds around the costs.

a fragile line of defense
Topic: Miscellaneous 12:46 pm EST, Nov 28, 2014

Charles Simic:

What makes a career in white-collar crime so attractive is that there are so few risks anymore.

Mike Konczal:

For decades the state, professionalized bureaucracy, democratic control of public finance, and the public itself have been vilified, while incentive pay and volunteerism -- exemplified by homeschooling, armed self-defense, the anti-vaccination movement, and other forms of civic abandonment -- have been ascendant. But as history shows, these rearguard actions make a fragile line of defense against the state's imperfections, and the ills of corruption and illegitimacy they breed can be far worse than any problems such anti-public measures may hope to solve.

Justin Fenton:

Baltimore prosecutors withdrew key evidence in a robbery case Monday rather than reveal details of the cellphone tracking technology police used to gather it.

Edward Hasbrouck:

For more than a decade, advertising for Las Vegas' hotels and casinos has centered on the implied promise to protect the privacy of their guests' activities while on their premises, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." But these same casinos and hotels have actually been in the vanguard of the hospitality industry in guest surveillance, with the owners of Caesar's in particular recognized as the industry leaders.

James Risen:

It is difficult to recognize the limits a society places on accepted thought at the time it is doing it. When everyone accepts basic assumptions, there don't seem to be constraints on ideas. That truth often only reveals itself in hindsight.

Henry Corrigan-Gibbs:

Diffie and Hellman's now-legendary key-exchange algorithm has an elegant one-line representation. Debates over academic freedom and government secrecy do not lend themselves to such a concise formulation. "It's not a neat, simple calculation," Aftergood said. "There are competing interests on all sides, and somehow one just has to muddle through.


According to Prof Steve Rayner of Oxford University, it is easier to devise the technology than to understand its effects or how its use should be governed.

human excrement has become a precious commodity
Topic: Miscellaneous 12:35 pm EST, Nov 28, 2014

Emily Eakin:

A year and a half ago, a few dozen physicians in the United States offered FMT. Today, hundreds do, and OpenBiome, a nonprofit stool bank founded last year by graduate students at M.I.T., ships more than fifty specimens each week to hospitals in thirty-six states. The Cleveland Clinic named fecal transplantation one of the top ten medical innovations for 2014, and biotech companies are competing to put stool-based therapies through clinical trials and onto the market. In medicine, at any rate, human excrement has become a precious commodity.

It's possible that no Americans have gut microbiomes that are truly healthy.

Stewart Butterfield:

I try to instill this into the rest of the team but certainly I feel that what we have right now is just a giant piece of shit. Like, it's just terrible and we should be humiliated that we offer this to the public. Not everyone finds that motivational, though.

Jon Bois:

Working at RadioShack was sort of the worst of two worlds: there was the poverty-level income of a blue-collar retail job, coupled with the expectations, political nonsense, and corporate soullessness of the white-collar environment.

Paul Ford:

The ultimate function of any standards body is epistemological; given an enormous range of opinions, it must identify some of them as beliefs. The automatic validator is an encoded belief system. Not every Web site offers valid HTML, just as not every Catholic eschews pre-marital sex. The percentage of pure and valid HTML on the web is probably the same as the percentage of Catholics who marry as virgins.

Paul Graham Raven

We offload physical effort onto our technologies, but are hence increasingly obliged to engage in other forms of labour in order to sustain the infrastuctures on which those technologies depend; the increasing interdependencies of infrastructure act as multipliers of technological effectiveness, but as they do so they push us further out onto the brittle, skinny branches of the technological path-dependency tree.

Bob Lefsetz:

You're a student of the game. You believe since you're passionate, you deserve not only a chance, but success.

But the truth is everybody wants to play. And the sieve to success is extremely narrow. Because people don't have time for mediocre, they don't even have time for good!

Quebec with more Chinese restaurants
Topic: Miscellaneous 1:11 pm EST, Nov 25, 2014

Spy Magazine:

Whenever a traveler from the East Coast announces that he is making a trip to California, he is expected to express revulsion if his business trip takes him to the cultural cesspool of Los Angeles but to leap into paroxysms of ecstasy should his business to him to the shining city on the hill where little cable cars run halfway to the stars. (Should he announce that his business is taking him to San Diego, people will usually tell him to visit the zoo.)

We hold no brief for, nor have any ax to grind against, the burgeoning municipality of San Diego; it certainly has a nice zoo. Yet on the question of San Francisco vs. Los Angeles, we feel compelled to advance a minority view and admit that we generally like LA, while finding San Francisco, a quaint hamlet that has somehow confused itself with Byzantium, has long benefitted from an uninterrupted stream of booster-spawned propaganda that has hornswoggled the American public. Consequently they believe that what is basically a glorified Austin, a slightly less nippy Ann Arbor, a boho Vancouver, a New Hope writ large or a seismically suspect Charlottesville is actually a first-tier municipality, one that can take its place alongside such world-class North American cities as New York, Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, Montreal, and, of course, Los Angeles. Frankly we find this idea quite ludicrous. In our view, San Francisco is Quebec with more Chinese restaurants.

Siobhan Gorman and Adam Entous:

Visiting North Korea, James Clapper said, was "kind of on my bucket list."


Sweetness is the cancer that is slowly killing Korean cuisine.

A representative at the Jianning Cold Warehouse:

All lamb skewers right now are not real. There aren't any real lamb skewers anymore.

Lan Guijun:

China has such serious food safety issues these days that you need years of experience to buy well: you have to be like an antique collector who can sniff out genuine articles among all the fakes.

Zhao Lu:

I had some stomach convulsions, but I'm OK now. I wouldn't recommend that normal people try this.

Nicola Twilley:

Nearly half of everything that is grown in China rots before it even reaches the retail market.

Americans, too, throw away 40 percent of their food, but nearly half of that waste occurs at the consumer level, meaning in retail locations and at home.

you change it in ways you couldn't have expected
Topic: Miscellaneous 1:11 pm EST, Nov 25, 2014

Vernon Bogdanor:

A.J.P. Taylor once said that we learn from history not to repeat the old mistakes. So we make new ones instead.

Paul Graham Raven:

Better technology doesn't necessarily mean thinking about what a technology does or how it does it, but about why you wanted the technology in the first place, and what you definitely don't want it to do.

Michael Hobbes:

This is the paradox: When you improve something, you change it in ways you couldn't have expected.

My favorite example of unintended consequences comes, weirdly enough, from the United States. In a speech to a criminology conference, Nancy G. Guerra, the director of the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Delaware, described a project where she held workshops with inner-city Latina teenagers, trying to prevent them from joining gangs. The program worked in that none of the girls committed any violence within six months of the workshops. But by the end of that time, they were all, each and every one, pregnant.

James Kynge:

Chinese children are taught that "diligence is a cash cow and thrift is a gold mine", while adults are warned in one somewhat humorous proverb that "going to bed early to save candles is not economical if the result is twins".

cheap, when compared with the potential profits
Topic: Miscellaneous 1:11 pm EST, Nov 25, 2014

Rachel Feintzeig:

[In] the frenzied job market of the latest tech boom, product developers frequently get multiple job offers and six-figure starting salaries right out of college.


Ayan Qureshi is now a Microsoft Certified Professional after passing the tech giant's exam when he was just five years old.

Hal Salzman:

Average wages in the IT industry are the same as those that prevailed when Bill Clinton was president.

Evelyn M. Rusli:

The average salary for a software engineer is about $126,000, up 20% from 2012, according to tech-jobs site Dice. Top engineers' salaries can be double that or more.

Lizzie Widdecombe:

Stephen Bradley had come to think that developers were like social media itself: "Ninety-nine per cent of them suck."

"What kind of price range are we talking about?" Bradley asked.

"Ballpark, for this role you're talking a hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars an hour."

In Silicon Valley, the average engineer's salary is around a hundred and thirty thousand dollars a year, according to a recent analysis by the Brookings Institution -- cheap, when compared with the potential profits. Apple makes more than two million dollars in revenue per employee each year.

its power seems inescapable
Topic: Miscellaneous 3:06 pm EST, Nov 23, 2014

Ursula K. LeGuin:

We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable -- but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

Brendan Nyhan:

[That's] the problem with rumors -- they're often much more interesting than the truth. The challenge for fact-checkers, it seems, is to make the facts as fun to share as the myths they seek to replace.

David Jakubowski, Facebook's head of advertising technology:

We are bringing all of the people-based marketing functions that marketers are used to doing on Facebook and allowing them to do that across the web.

David Brooks:

Data-driven politics assumes that demography is destiny, that the electorate is not best seen as a group of free-thinking citizens but as a collection of demographic slices. This method assumes that mobilization is more important than persuasion; that it is more important to target your likely supporters than to try to reframe debates or persuade the whole country.


It's important to understand that it isn't Congress that must change -- it is us.

Lawrence D. Freedman:

In the end, the lesson of 1914 is that there are no sure lessons. Yet there are always choices, and the best advice for governments to emerge from the story of 1914 is to make them carefully: be clear about core interests, get the best possible information, explore opportunities for a peaceful settlement, and treat military plans with skepticism.

Randall Munroe:

Is there an app for that?

the things they measured
Topic: Miscellaneous 2:39 pm EST, Nov 23, 2014

Ian Urbuna:

Observers disturb the things we measure.

Michael Glennon:

The government is seen increasingly by elements of the public as hiding what they ought to know, criminalizing what they ought to be able to do, and spying upon what ought to be private. The people are seen increasingly by the government as unable to comprehend the gravity of security threats.

Jordan Michael Smith:

In a new book, "National Security and Double Government," Michael Glennon catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term "double government": There's the one we elect, and then there's the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.

National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy.

The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people.

The people have to take the bull by the horns. And that's a very difficult thing to do, because the ignorance is in many ways rational. There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can't affect, policies that you can't change.

a scientist who believes she has all the answers is not a scientist
Topic: Miscellaneous 2:39 pm EST, Nov 23, 2014

Dougald Hine:

Switch off the infinity machine, not forever, nor because there is anything bad about it, but out of recognition of our own finitude: there is only so much information any of us can bear, and we cannot go fishing in the stream if we are drowning in it.

Ian Leslie:

The gap between question and answer is where creativity thrives and scientific progress is made. When we celebrate our greatest thinkers, we usually focus on their ingenious answers. But the thinkers themselves tend to see it the other way around. "Looking back," said Charles Darwin, "I think it was more difficult to see what the problems were than to solve them." The writer Anton Chekhov declared, "The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them." The very definition of a bad work of art is one that insists on telling its audience the answers, and a scientist who believes she has all the answers is not a scientist.

In a world awash in ready-made answers, the ability to pose difficult, even unanswerable questions is more important than ever.

Dan Saffer:

You future-proof yourself by ensuring that the kind of work you do cannot be easily replicated by an algorithm. In design, those skills are insights-gathering, problem framing, and crafting unconventional solutions.

Knowing the context, and being able to determine what the true problem is to solve (and not just fixing a symptom) is a key part of the designer's role (as it is now). Fortunately, the current present abounds with great examples of startups solving non-problems for us to learn from.

the counsel of hypothetical fears
Topic: Miscellaneous 2:39 pm EST, Nov 23, 2014

Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges:

The cyber threat is not just a potential threat, it is daily reality.

ADM Mike Rogers:

This is not theoretical.

Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasey:

The sponsors of the USA Freedom Act prefer the counsel of hypothetical fears to the logic of concrete realities.

Ian Urbuna:

Rachel Malis's father fled Ukraine in 1980 when he was 28, and he vowed never to return. Even in America, old habits, like his KGB-induced skepticism of the police lingered. Malis said that during her childhood in Trumbull, Conn., near New Haven, he would close the living-room blinds whenever he wanted to discuss anything "sensitive," like summer travel plans or family finances.

Tony Mendez:

1. Assume nothing.
2. Never go against your gut.
3. Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
4. Don't look back; you are never completely alone.
5. Go with the flow, blend in.
6. Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
7. Lull them into a sense of complacency.
8. Don't harass the opposition.
9. Pick the time and place for action.
10. Keep your options open.

this combination of inscrutability and remote power
Topic: Miscellaneous 6:29 am EST, Nov 21, 2014

Iris Murdoch:

After a while I began to have an uneasy feeling of being observed. I am very sensitive to observation, and often have this feeling not only in the presence of human beings but in that of small animals.

Once I even traced the source of it to a large spider whose mysterious eyes were fixed upon me. In my experience the spider is the smallest creature whose gaze can be felt.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

Each of these [drones] gives its human operator the same power: It allows us to project our intelligence into the air and to exert our influence over vast expanses of space. It is this combination of inscrutability and remote power that makes them such a maddeningly seductive and destructive tool of foreign policy.

John Markoff:

During the past 15 years, video cameras have been placed in a vast number of public and private spaces. In the future, the software operating the cameras will not only be able to identify particular humans via facial recognition, experts say, but also identify certain types of behavior, perhaps even automatically alerting authorities.

James Bridle:

The core technology of the Third Wall, again pioneered but only partially implemented by the Second, is Automated Number Plate Recognition, or ANPR. When the Wall was initially constructed, the public were informed that this data would only be held, and regularly purged, by Transport for London, who oversee traffic matters in the city. However, within less than five years, the Home Secretary gave the Metropolitan Police full access to this system, which allowed them to take a complete copy of the data produced by the system.

This permission to access the data was granted to the Police on the sole condition that they only used it when National Security was under threat. But since the data was now in their possession, the Police reclassified it as "Crime" data and now use it for general policing matters, despite the wording of the original permission. As this data is not considered to be "personal data" within the definition of the law, the Police are under no obligation to destroy it, and may retain their ongoing record of all vehicle movements within the city for as long as they desire.

The Fourth London Wall will be made of transponders carried in the vehicles themselves. One of the defining characteristics of the Wall is that it is not, and cannot be, voluntary. Each successive Wall is only erected when the relevant technologies and social systems have arisen that no longer depend on consent.

London's citizens will dream, and the images of their dreams will dance on the telescreens of Piccadilly Circus, and be found wanting.

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